Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawn

There were five failed armed Fenian incursions into Canada between 1866 and 1871

Fenians used Canada as an Irish revolutionary pawnUniversity of Toronto historian David A. Wilson has an interesting new book called Canadian Spy Story: Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police. It’s a detailed examination of a mid-19th-century episode that had the potential to turn Canadian history upside down. And Wilson makes a credible case that the danger wasn’t entirely farfetched. Following the conclusion…

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernity

Hereditary dynasties could not survive the industrial revolution. Well, except for one

Hereditary empires and the struggle with modernityLast week’s column drew from British historian Dominic Lieven’s current book about emperors and empires. Called In the Shadow of the Gods, it’s an exploration of the characteristics that contributed to dynastic success or failure. Lieven’s penultimate chapter deals with the challenges modernity posed to hereditary dynasties. As the environment changed rapidly, the crowns adorning…

How empires grab and hold on to power

Being recognized as divinely anointed didn’t guarantee acquiescence, but it was still a huge asset

How empires grab and hold on to powerDominic Lieven is a British historian who has written extensively on European, particularly Russian, history. His latest book, In the Shadow of the Gods, is about emperors and empires. It examines their historical scope and the characteristics that contributed to dynastic success or failure. At over 400 densely written pages (excluding notes), the book is…

Is it curtains for Boris Johnson?

Call it a 50/50 proposition

Is it curtains for Boris Johnson?Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is “very happy” that Boris Johnson survived his leadership confidence vote. As the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Johnson has been one of Ukraine’s most energetic and zealous supporters. And Zelensky doesn’t want to lose such a valuable ally. Those who worried that Brexit would turn the U.K. inward and isolationist have…

Catholic Ireland’s conflicted interest in the monarchy

Dublin cinemas planned to screen the Queen's coronation but opted not to after receiving threats

Catholic Ireland’s conflicted interest in the monarchyNews stories about Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee put me in mind of a book by Irish author Mary Kenny. Called Crown and Shamrock, it’s described by historian Roy Foster as a “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful” look at a complicated relationship. Kenny is five months older than I am and what she writes of Ireland…

War and brutality go hand in hand

Combat naturally leads to behaviours that would be deemed shocking in normal life

War and brutality go hand in handAntony Beevor is a prolific English military historian, most famous for the bestseller Stalingrad. First published in the late 1990s, the book’s narrative covers the period between the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943. That battle is often described as the Second…

The last children of Anglo-Saxon England

For the upper class of England, the Norman conquest was wipe out time

The last children of Anglo-Saxon EnglandHarold Godwineson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, died on the battlefield at Hastings in October 1066. It wasn’t a pretty ending. Whether he was killed by an arrow through the eye (the traditional story), trampled underfoot, or hunted down and (literally) cut to pieces by invading Norman knights remains a matter of speculation. For…

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?

Finland was truly alone. That’s not the case with Ukraine today

Will Ukraine’s fate be the same as that of 1940s Finland?Bordered by Russia to the east and Sweden to the northwest, Finland’s historical experience has been coloured by the existence of these more powerful neighbours. In fact, ‘dominated’ might be more apt. After being effectively part of Sweden for centuries, Finland was ceded to the Russian Empire in 1809. But when the chaos surrounding the…

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perils

Conventional wisdom holds he may win the leadership but not a general election

Pierre Poilievre’s prospects and perilsPierre Poilievre is making waves. Virtually all of the buzz in the federal Conservative leadership race revolves around him. He’s pulling in crowds, generating headlines and tossing out ideas that intrigue some and unnerve others. Excitement isn’t a word normally associated with Canadian conservatism. But, for better or worse, Poilievre stirs it up. And some…

From evil to relativism and back again

'Evil' is back in rhetorical style, at least on a selective basis. Actual evil, of course, never went away

From evil to relativism and back againEvil was a very real concept when I was a child. Orthodox Catholic opinion in the Ireland I grew up in believed evil was personified by the devil. And the devil wasn’t just a metaphor but a real live entity. My grandmother’s house in rural County Cork had a religiously-themed image hanging on one of…
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